#1
Hi all, I have played guitar for a number of years and feel like I have a pretty good grasp of the pentatonic scale all the way up and down the fretboard for any given key. I have also taken three semesters of undergraduate theory. I began thinking about the pentatonic scale a little more deeply here recently. I understand the formula for deriving the scale from the seven note scales, but I am curious why we leave out the notes we do. .I have tried reading some articles which suggest these combinations of notes and intervals work well for soloing over a basic I-IV-V-I progression. Lets take the major pentatonic for example. Obviously the scale tone 4 is very useful for harmonization with the IV chord and as the dominant seventh of the V chord and the leading tone is useful for harmonization with the V chord. The best idea I could come up with is that these two notes are a half step away from another scale tone and the absence of these two tones gives an interval of a minor third. I know I have rambled a bit, but I was just hoping for a little more insight into why the pentatonic scale is formed the way it is.
#2
It's "safe." In particular, the major pentatonic removes the perfect fourth and major seventh intervals. That means that there are no semitone movements within the major pentatonic scale. For the minor pentatonic, it's essentially a minor seventh arpeggio with the fourth in there for kicks. That means that it works exceptionally well over the corresponding minor chord.

They're kind of "bare bones" in a way.
Quote by dudetheman
So what? I wasted like 5 minutes watching DaddyTwoFoot's avatar.


Metalheads are the worst thing that ever happened to metal.
#3
pentatonic scales are here to minimize the chance of hitting a bad note. even if all your notes are in key, that doesn't mean they'll all sound great in random orders. so, instead of learning diatonic modes, exotic scales, and just practicing enough to never play bad notes, a short-cut is learning the pentatonic scale. with only 5 notes there isn't as much of a chance you'll play a bad one.
then the minor pentatonic is also easily turned into the blues scale by adding the blue note, idk why they didn't add a blue note to the natural minor scale and call that the "natural blues scale" or something, i guess the theorists who came up with it just didnt think abt that, but u can add blue notes to anything as dissonance.
#4
Quote by TMVATDI
pentatonic scales are here to minimize the chance of hitting a bad note.


No, they were not designed for that purpose.

They aren't like "beginner scales" designed for guitarists worried about hitting "unsafe" notes.


Quote by antrichen
Hi all, I have played guitar for a number of years and feel like I have a pretty good grasp of the pentatonic scale all the way up and down the fretboard for any given key. I have also taken three semesters of undergraduate theory. I began thinking about the pentatonic scale a little more deeply here recently. I understand the formula for deriving the scale from the seven note scales, but I am curious why we leave out the notes we do. .I have tried reading some articles which suggest these combinations of notes and intervals work well for soloing over a basic I-IV-V-I progression. Lets take the major pentatonic for example. Obviously the scale tone 4 is very useful for harmonization with the IV chord and as the dominant seventh of the V chord and the leading tone is useful for harmonization with the V chord. The best idea I could come up with is that these two notes are a half step away from another scale tone and the absence of these two tones gives an interval of a minor third. I know I have rambled a bit, but I was just hoping for a little more insight into why the pentatonic scale is formed the way it is.


Pentatonic scales were around before the Major/minor system of tonality. So to find the reasons for their formation you have to look back further. and tbh, I don't think anyone can give you an exact answer.
shred is gaudy music
Last edited by GuitarMunky at Jul 19, 2010,
#5
Quote by GuitarMunky
No, they were not designed for that purpose.

They aren't like "beginner scales" designed for guitarists worried about hitting "unsafe" notes.


i didnt mean they were created specifically for beginners, just that that would be the common use, i guess i dont know why they exist. my guitar scales and modes book (hal leonard's "at a glance" series) explains the minor pentatonic as the minor scale sounding less dark, but with the added benefit of easier improvising with less of a chance of hitting a bad-sounding note.
#6
Quote by GuitarMunky
No, they were not designed for that purpose.

They aren't like "beginner scales" designed for guitarists worried about hitting "unsafe" notes.


Pentatonic scales were around before the Major/minor system of tonality. So to find the reasons for their formation you have to look back further. and tbh, I don't think anyone can give you an exact answer.
Important point to consider there regarding the pentatonic scale predating the major scale.

My belief as to why those five notes in particular make up the pentatonic scale...

Start on the root and go up in perfect fifths then put them all in the same octave.

Using C going up in perfect fifths we get C G D A E - put them into the same octave and you have the pentatonic scale. C D E G A.

[edit] initial post came out wrong so I fixed it
Si
Last edited by 20Tigers at Jul 20, 2010,
#8
The interval between scale degrees 4 and 7 is an augmented 4th and between 7 and 4 is a diminished 5th - the tritone or "devil" note. I'm guessing this is why it was removed.
#9
Quote by 20Tigers
You're right on account of it predating the major scale but I think it's pretty easy to guess as to why those five notes in particular make up the pentatonic scale...

Start on the root and go up in perfect fifths then put them all in the same octave.

Using C going up in perfect fifths we get C G D A E - put them into the same octave and you have the pentatonic scale. C D E G A.

Problem solved.


Problem solved?

there was no problem, and I didn't say you couldn't guess or theorize about it..... just that there is nothing else we can do..... there is no written account of its creation. The point being that the pentatonic scales aren't easy versions of the Major and minor scales for the convenience of guitarists as is so often stated as fact here.


Quote by KingStill
The interval between scale degrees 4 and 7 is an augmented 4th and between 7 and 4 is a diminished 5th - the tritone or "devil" note. I'm guessing this is why it was removed.



Well, the notes weren't "removed". Pentatonic scales predate medieval times


Quote by TMVATDI
i didnt mean they were created specifically for beginners, just that that would be the common use, i guess i dont know why they exist. my guitar scales and modes book (hal leonard's "at a glance" series) explains the minor pentatonic as the minor scale sounding less dark, but with the added benefit of easier improvising with less of a chance of hitting a bad-sounding note.


Right, it is often taught to guitarists that way. I consider that to be unfortunate.

The way I see it, the scales have a particular sound. If you want that sound.... you use that scale.
shred is gaudy music
Last edited by GuitarMunky at Jul 20, 2010,
#10
Quote by antrichen
Hi all, I have played guitar for a number of years and feel like I have a pretty good grasp of the pentatonic scale all the way up and down the fretboard for any given key. I have also taken three semesters of undergraduate theory. I began thinking about the pentatonic scale a little more deeply here recently. I understand the formula for deriving the scale from the seven note scales, but I am curious why we leave out the notes we do. .I have tried reading some articles which suggest these combinations of notes and intervals work well for soloing over a basic I-IV-V-I progression. Lets take the major pentatonic for example. Obviously the scale tone 4 is very useful for harmonization with the IV chord and as the dominant seventh of the V chord and the leading tone is useful for harmonization with the V chord. The best idea I could come up with is that these two notes are a half step away from another scale tone and the absence of these two tones gives an interval of a minor third. I know I have rambled a bit, but I was just hoping for a little more insight into why the pentatonic scale is formed the way it is.

i would have said because in both cases, you are taking out the notes that are the least resolved and making it more usuable over more situations. but munky is right in saying they pre date the major scale. so the "reason" it is what it is, is kind of unclear. pretty much every culture used/uses pentatonics. i would say they probably just picked notes that sounded the best for what they did. they happened to pick notes that work well over almost anything. i dont think it was an accident, but i dont really think there was a "reason" exactly.

also, you can have different pentatonic formulas if you wanted. for example, ive seen modal pentatonics which are 5 note scales that still have a modal sound to them. ive also seen the dominant pentatonic scale which is supposed to be good over dom7 chords but i dont remember how they are set up.
#11
The pentatonic scale is literally part of our DNA. Every tonal system in the world contains the pentatonic scale. If you go to china or the middle east or anywhere that makes music, you will hear the intervals of the pentatonic scale even if they dont use 12tet.

Think of it like this. Each language has its own unique vocabulary, and so does the music of different cultures. But each language has a few syllables and sounds that are present in all languages. The pentatonic scale can be thought of like these syllables.
#12
Quote by GuitarMunky
Problem solved?

Well, the notes weren't "removed". Pentatonic scales predate medieval times



I used the wrong term, let me rephrase. The tritone was most dissonant interval so the notes that describe it weren't present in the original medieval scale. Later on when the pentatonics were defined in terms of the major scale, scale degrees 4 and 7 were excluded because they defined the tritone.
Last edited by KingStill at Jul 20, 2010,
#13
Quote by KingStill
I used the wrong term, let me rephrase. The tritone was most dissonant interval so the notes that describe it were removed from original medieval scale. Later on when the pentatonics were defined in terms of the major scale, scale degrees 4 and 7 were excluded because they defined the tritone.


Id check your history

The reason 4 and 7 arent in the pentatonic scale has nothing to do with the tritone. It has to do with the fact that all the notes of the major scale are in the pentatonic scale except 4 and 7...
#14
Quote by tubatom868686
Id check your history

The reason 4 and 7 arent in the pentatonic scale has nothing to do with the tritone. It has to do with the fact that all the notes of the major scale are in the pentatonic scale except 4 and 7...


But in present times, the pentatonic scale is defined in terms of the major scale, while you imply the converse. So if you take the major scale, remove 4 and 7 you get the pentatonic. The question is why 4 and 7 are removed from major to make pentatonic, not why 4 and 7 are added to pentatonic to make the major.
#16
Quote by tenfold
The 2 notes weren't removed, they didn't exist yet. Yes you can take the major/minor scale and remove 2 notes but the pentatonic was invented first.


Yes, the notes weren't removed, but it's naive to say that those notes never existed. Is it coincidence that medieval musicians found every note, except for the pesky two that make the devil sound? They always did exist, and since their interval was not liked, they were never put in the original scale in the first place.
#17
Quote by KingStill
But in present times, the pentatonic scale is defined in terms of the major scale, while you imply the converse. So if you take the major scale, remove 4 and 7 you get the pentatonic. The question is why 4 and 7 are removed from major to make pentatonic, not why 4 and 7 are added to pentatonic to make the major.


No, the question still is why are 4 and 7 added because the major scale is based off the pentatonic scale
#18
Quote by tubatom868686
No, the question still is why are 4 and 7 added because the major scale is based off the pentatonic scale


A major scale consists of a fixed pitch and a sequence of pitch ratios. The definition has been abstracted away from and is independent from (as in not based on) the pentatonic. Then to build the pentatonic, you remove the 4th and 7th. That is the modern definition.
#19
Quote by KingStill
A major scale consists of a fixed pitch and a sequence of pitch ratios. The definition has been abstracted away from and is independent from (as in not based on) the pentatonic. Then to build the pentatonic, you remove the 4th and 7th. That is the modern definition.


I dont even get what point your trying to make
#20
If we ask "why are pentatonic scales," we must also ask, "why are our ears."
Oh yeah.

Quote by hildesaw
A minor is the saddest of all keys.

EDIT: D minor is the saddest of all keys.
#21
Quote by GuitarMunky
Problem solved?

there was no problem, and I didn't say you couldn't guess or theorize about it..... just that there is nothing else we can do..... there is no written account of its creation. The point being that the pentatonic scales aren't easy versions of the Major and minor scales for the convenience of guitarists as is so often stated as fact here.


Well, the notes weren't "removed". Pentatonic scales predate medieval times


Right, it is often taught to guitarists that way. I consider that to be unfortunate.

The way I see it, the scales have a particular sound. If you want that sound.... you use that scale.


i guess i was just never too much into the pentatonic sound, its not enough notes for me. there's 1 scale i like (i forgot what its called) that actually has 8 notes, an octatonic scale.
there were these weird exotic pentatonic scales from japan i've used before tho, i should look them up again cuz i forgot all about them.
#22
Could be interesting: TED
Oh yeah.

Quote by hildesaw
A minor is the saddest of all keys.

EDIT: D minor is the saddest of all keys.
#23
Quote by GuitarMunky
Problem solved?

there was no problem, and I didn't say you couldn't guess or theorize about it..... just that there is nothing else we can do..... there is no written account of its creation. The point being that the pentatonic scales aren't easy versions of the Major and minor scales for the convenience of guitarists as is so often stated as fact here.

Quite right. I have edited my post.

It's just that I was so surprised that no one had mentioned how the notes of the pentatonic are the first five notes if we go up in perfect fifths that I emphasized the wrong point. It just seemed like an obvious correlation that explains "why those five notes".

The Octave and Perfect Fifth are the most basic and universal relationships you could even use words like fundamental and dominant to describe them - oh wait a minute...

I'm not suggesting that our ancient ancestors worked out the circle of fifths then conjured the pentatonic scale from that. They created melodies that sounded good to them and it just so happens that looking at these melodies from various cultures we can determine the scale with the widest general appeal to human beings is the pentatonic scale.

I argue that the reason why these five notes are so appealing is; given the way in which we naturally perceive two notes an octave apart as sharing the same underlying sonic quality; and the way we seem to be hardwired to like the perfect fifth; it seems a little more than coincidence that the pentatonic scale is also the first five stops on the cycle of fifths put into a single octave.

The question then becomes why stop there why not the next stop on the cycle of fifths which would give us the leading tone for a six note scale. I believe the answer is in it's simplicity. Use as few notes as possible to span the octave while avoiding unwieldy leaps of greater than a minor third. This is achieved through the pentatonic scale and more notes seem like unnecessary complication. Like I said before though it wouldn't have been a thought out calculated process as much as a natural evolution of melodic principles through the practice of singing for fun.

Anyway that's my hypothesis.
Si
Last edited by 20Tigers at Jul 20, 2010,
#24
Quote by 20Tigers
Quite right. I have edited my post.

It's just that I was so surprised that no one had mentioned how the notes of the pentatonic are the first five notes if we go up in perfect fifths that I emphasized the wrong point. It just seemed like an obvious correlation that explains "why those five notes".

The Octave and Perfect Fifth are the most basic and universal relationships you could even use words like fundamental and dominant to describe them - oh wait a minute...

I'm not suggesting that our ancient ancestors worked out the circle of fifths then conjured the pentatonic scale from that. They created melodies that sounded good to them and it just so happens that looking at these melodies from various cultures we can determine the scale with the widest general appeal to human beings is the pentatonic scale.

I argue that the reason why these five notes are so appealing is; given the way in which we naturally perceive two notes an octave apart as sharing the same underlying sonic quality; and the way we seem to be hardwired to like the perfect fifth; it seems a little more than coincidence that the pentatonic scale is also the first five stops on the cycle of fifths put into a single octave.

The question then becomes why stop there why not the next stop on the cycle of fifths which would give us the leading tone for a six note scale. I believe the answer is in it's simplicity. Use as few notes as possible to span the octave while avoiding unwieldy leaps of greater than a minor third. This is achieved through the pentatonic scale and more notes seem like unnecessary complication. Like I said before though it wouldn't have been a thought out calculated process as much as a natural evolution of melodic principles through the practice of singing for fun.

Anyway that's my hypothesis.


Good observations & points, as usual.
shred is gaudy music
#25
thanks for the discussion guys. I have come to the conclusion from the discussion that there is no one reason that these five notes are the ones that were chosen for this scale, but you guys definitely have some interesting thoughts for why we use this scale. I personally feel I have an undeveloped ear for the amount of theory I know, thus I think there are some conclusions about the sound of the scale I would have been unable to make on my own. Also, I saw that Bobby McFerrin video a while back, but watched it again and absolutely love it.